Tesla to settle lawsuit over mishandling hazardous waste in California

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk
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Tesla will pay a fee of $1.5 million to settle a civil lawsuit alleging the company mishandled hazardous waste materials at facilities throughout the state of California for years.

The fee is negligible for Tesla, which reported net income of $7.93 billion during the fourth-quarter of 2023.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

District attorneys representing the people of 25 California counties had filed their lawsuit, The People of the State of California v. Tesla Inc., earlier in the week in a state court in San Joaquin County.

In their complaint, the district attorneys alleged that Tesla had: “intentionally disposed of, and intentionally caused the disposal of hazardous waste” at places that were “not authorized” nor appropriately equipped to handle that material which included everything from spent lead acid batteries to paint and lubricants used in auto repairs and manufacturing.

The suit also alleged that Tesla frequently failed to properly label containers of hazardous materials that it generated, used or stored at its facilities, and failed to train employees in proper handling of hazardous waste.

The settlement fee of $1.5 million includes $1.3 million in civil penalties and $200,000 to reimburse the costs of the investigation according to a press statement issued by San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. In addition to the settlement fee, Tesla will need to “comply with a detailed injunction for five years,” according to the statement.

Tesla will need to prove “proper training of employees” and will need to hire a third party to “conduct annual waste audits of its trash containers at ten percent of its facilities,” each year to meet the injunctive requirements, according to the statement. The audits will continue for five years and involve inspections of Tesla’s trash containers for hazardous waste, the statement from Jenkins said.

While Tesla has a stated mission to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” the company and its CEO have been called out for environmental hypocrisy through the years.

For example, the Political Economy Research Institute ranks Tesla 89th on its list of Toxic 100 air polluters, based on the most recent available data from 2021. Musk’s frequent use of a private jet for travel, as well as greenhouse gas emissions associated with it, are tracked by independent researcher Jack Sweeney, via his social media accounts including ElonMusksJet on Threads.

In 2022, Tesla paid a $275,000 penalty to the EPA after the agency found it violated air toxic emission standards during a three-year period in Fremont, California, which is home to its first high-volume vehicle assembly plant.